Nicaragua intensifies its attacks against the Catholic Church

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The United States Ambassador for Religious Freedom denounced on Thursday that the Nicaraguan government has 11 religious in prison and has forced several more into exile as part of a campaign of attacks and persecution of the Catholic Church in that country.

Rashad Hussain offered a press conference in New York together with Nicaraguan human rights defenders Juan Carlos Arce and Leyla Prado in the framework of the 77th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN).

“The increase in attacks” by the Daniel Ortega government on the Catholic Church and its faithful is particularly alarming, said diplomat and adviser to President Joe Biden on religious affairs.

He added that in recent months the Nicaraguan government closed 10 Catholic radio stations and expelled 18 nuns from the order of Mother Teresa of Calcutta who had been working in the country for many years.

He indicated that Ortega also forced several priests into exile and that he sent another six to prison, most without charge, as well as two seminarians, a deacon and a layman, all of them collaborators of Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who has been under house arrest since 42 days ago.

Hussain accompanied Arce from the Nicaraguan Never Again Human Rights Collective at the conference, who said that his country is experiencing “a dramatic situation” because the Sandinista government is determined to eliminate any sign of dissidence.

Arce recalled that in March Ortega expelled the apostolic nuncio Waldemar Sommertag from the country, who in 2019 had interceded for an amnesty for imprisoned opponents. He noted that of the more than 1,800 non-governmental organizations closed by the government this year, 29 were religious in nature, including Catholic schools and universities.

Regarding Bishop Álvarez, he said that the prelate is “in forced disappearance”, since his situation is unknown and “no one has seen him” since the police confined him to a house in Managua on August 19 and with permanent surveillance.

According to Arce, this week the Nicaraguan government banned the popular religious processions in the city of Masaya, neighboring the capital, and in Camoapa, in the center of the country. “The population can no longer express their faith in the street, this violates religious freedom and freedom of expression,” he said.

For her part, Prado, a lawyer for the Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH) of Nicaragua, said that Ortega wants to “shut up the Catholic Church” and has implemented “a systematic persecution of critical voices” or dissidents.

Prado pointed out that of the 11 imprisoned priests, three have been prosecuted “in spurious, contradictory and illegal trials” and of these two were accused of alleged common crimes and did not have the right to an independent defense.

“The government maintains a sword of Damocles over the Church: silence, jail or exile,” said the jurist.

Both the CPDH and the Nicaraguan Never Again Collective operate abroad after their directors and activists had to go into exile due to harassment and threats from the government.

Nicaragua is experiencing a serious political crisis that erupted in April 2018 when police and paramilitaries violently repressed a social uprising, causing 355 deaths, more than 2,000 injuries, 1,600 detainees, and more than 100,000 exiles, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Ortega rejects the IACHR figures and attributes the protests to “a failed coup” against him. He has also said that the Catholic bishops support the opposition because they are “devils in cassocks.”

In November, the 76-year-old president was re-elected for a fourth consecutive term after imprisoning his main contenders. According to the opposition, there are more than 205 political prisoners in different prisons in the country.

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